The Alimony Statute
The Utah Alimony Statute, Utah Code § 30-3-5(8), articulates seven factors that a court must consider in making an alimony determination:
(i) the financial condition and needs of the recipient spouse;
(ii) the recipient’s earning capacity or ability to produce income;
(iii) the ability of the payor spouse to provide support;
(iv) the length of the marriage;
(v) whether the recipient spouse has custody of minor children requiring support;
(vi) whether the recipient spouse worked in a business owned or operated by the payor spouse; and
(vii) whether the recipient spouse directly contributed to any increase in the payor spouse’s skill by paying for education received by the payor spouse or enabling the payor spouse to attend school during the marriage.
Utah Code § 30-3-5(8)(a).
The Jones Factors
The first three factors are a codification of the Utah Supreme Court’s analysis in Jones v. Jones, 700 P.2d 1072, 1075 (Utah 1985), and are often referred to as the Jones factors. The Utah Supreme Court in Dahl v. Dahl, 2015 UT 23 (UT Sup Ct) recently discussed the burden of proof relating to alimony at trial. A party seeking alimony bears the burden of demonstrating to the court that the Jones factors support an award of alimony. See Whitehead v. Whitehead, 836 P.2d 814, 817 (Utah Ct. App. 1992) (affirming a district court’s decision to deny an award of alimony where the recipient spouse “failed to prove her financial needs”); see also Broemer v. Broemer, 109 So.3d 284, 288 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2013) (explaining that where former wife sought an award of spousal support, she had “the burden to prove her actual need and the former husband’s ability to pay alimony”); Hagedorn v. Hagedorn, 822 N.W.2d 719, 722 (S.D. 2012) (holding that “[t]he party requesting alimony has the burden to establish that they have a need for support and that their spouse has sufficient means and abilities to provide for part or all of that need” (internal quotation marks omitted)); In re Marriage of Robert, 820 N.W.2d 158 (Iowa Ct. App. 2012) (collecting cases from various jurisdictions that have held that “the party seeking spousal support bears the burden of proof”).
To satisfy this burden, a party seeking alimony must provide the court with a credible financial declaration and financial documentation to demonstrate that the Jones factors support an award ofalimony. Bakanowski v. Bakanowski, 2003 UT App 357, ¶ 9, 80 P.3d 153 (explaining that before awarding alimony, “the trial court is required to make adequate factual findings on all material issues, unless the facts in the record are clear, uncontroverted, and capable of supporting only a finding in favor of the judgment” (internal quotation marks omitted)); see also Utah R. Civ. P. 101(d)(1) (“Attachments for motions and responses regarding alimony shall include income verification and a financial declaration.”). Failure to consider the Jones factors when determining an appropriate alimony award “constitutes an abuse of discretion.” Paffel v. Paffel, 732 P.2d 96, 101 (Utah 1986). But where a party seeking alimony fails to satisfy its burden, a district court will generally not abuse its discretion in declining to award alimony.
For example, in Whitehead, the court of appeals affirmed a district court’s decision to deny a request for alimony where the recipient spouse “failed to provide evidence of her needs” and where her alleged monthly living expenses were “unsubstantiated.” 836 P.2d at 817. And in Bakanowski, the court of appeals reversed a trial court’s decision to award alimony, holding that “[t]he trial court abused its discretion by failing to make adequate findings in awarding alimony.” 2003 UT App 357, ¶ 17; see also Bell v. Bell, 810 P.2d 489, 492 (Utah Ct. App. 1991) (“[T]he trial court must make sufficiently detailed findings of fact on each [Jones] factor to enable a reviewing court to ensure that the trial court’s discretionary determination was rationally based upon these three factors.”).
Thus, any party who is seeking alimony needs to make sure that he includes all information in his financial declaration and all supporting documentation. This includes all documentation relating to the party’s mortgage or rent, utilities, retirement, bank accounts, taxes, and household expenses. A failure to include this information can result in a denial of an alimony award.